Harpswell weighs proposal for flexible subdivisions, more conservation

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HARPSWELL — The town will hold a public hearing next week on proposed ordinance changes that could benefit land owners and land conservation efforts.

The proposed changes, which will be discussed at the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee’s Feb. 5 meeting, call for more flexible subdivision standards.

Another change would require subdivision applicants to provide planning documents earlier than currently required, which would allow planning officials to determine what kind of subdivision would be most suitable.

Originally recommended in the town’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan, the proposed implementation of flexible lot-size subdivisions could go to voters at the March 15 Town Meeting if approved by the Board of Selectmen.

Flexible lot-size subdivisions have already been implemented in other communities, including Brunswick, Freeport and Topsham.

If implemented, property owners would be able to apply for subdivisions with smaller lot sizes and potentially less required road frontage, Town Planner Carol Eyerman said.

One of two currently available options, for two-acre subdivisions, requires minimum lots of 80,000 square feet, and is considered restrictive for some kinds of developments.

In exchange, landowners would have to conserve half of their property for common open space, but in a way that would integrate the protected land throughout the developed lots, Eyerman said.

The proposed ordinance change would also require landowners to make a full inventory of the kinds of protected space available on the property that will be set aside. This could include farmland, wetlands, trails, waterfront access or land that protects a scenic view.

Once the flexible lot size subdivision is established, the protected space could be maintained for their respective uses, Eyerman said. It could also allow a third party to purchase an easement on the protected space, or continue to use the space if it’s being used for natural resources, like farming or fishing.

“I hate to use the cliche of ‘it’s a win-win situation,’ but it actually is,” she said. 

The flexible lot-size subdivision would replace the town’s alternate lot size subdivision, which also requires half of the subdivision to be set aside for open space purposes.

However, the alternate lot size subdivision isn’t as desirable for property owners and developers because it tends to encourage clustered development, Burr Taylor, a member of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, said.

In addition, the alternate lot size subdivision doesn’t address the different kinds of open space within the property, only the open space itself.

To illustrate the difference between two-acre lot subdivisions, alternate lot size subdivisions and flexible lot-size subdivisions, a town-issued brochure last fall described each one:

• With the two-acre lot subdivision – which will still be an available option if the flexible subdivision is adopted – developed 80,000 square-foot lots are equally distributed throughout the property with no room for common open space.

• With the alternate lot size subdivision, half of the property is apportioned as common open space in one large, continuous area with the other half comprised of developed lots clustered around each other.

• With the flexible lot size subdivision, developed lots are spaced apart and distributed throughout common open space, which will account for half of the total land, but not all lumped together as it is with alternate lot size subdivisions.

Taylor said the implementation of the flexible lot size subdivision will allow the town to conserve more kinds of open space.

He said it will also allow landowners and developers to create better residential and non-residential developments because of more flexible lot sizes and improved open space integration, which can potentially increase property values.

“No pain, lots of gain,” he said.

The Feb. 5 public hearing for the proposed ordinance changes begins at 6:30 p.m. in the town’s meeting room at Town Hall, 263 Mountain Road.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

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